Sometimes I feel like it’s the early 1800 and I’m trying to convince the world that a wide variety of diseases can be understood by the germ theory. Infectious diseases hit almost every part of the body and can cause a wide variety of conditions. It could certainly have been considered counter–intuitive to suggest there was a single underlying process. Today we know that there are many different types of microorganisms which manifest in many different forms of disease. Understanding the process by which organisms spread from person to person was a major breakthrough, but the initial barrier was accepting that such a wide variety of diseases could be caused by the same process.
This is at the heart of the DT problem. DT spreads from person to person, infecting them and moving on. The internet has lead to a faster spread of DT. This is why, as information flows more freely, the world is not getting smarter, it is getting dumber. Hate and small-mindedness are more contagious and spread much more easily than logic and reason. This is why we have HAMAS and ISIS. This is why almost 90% of Palestinians support shooting rockets into Israel. They are completely poisoned by DT and have almost completely lost the ability to problem-solve.
So what is the solution? During the early days of understanding infectious disease it was “wash you hands”. So what is the equivalent of washing your informational hands? FIRST ask “What is the goal and is it consistent with my values?” SECOND ask “Does spreading this piece of information really help achieve the goal?” THIRD ask “Is the degree of dichotomaticity appropriate for the situation?”
From a later exchange with the same friends mentioned in the 8/8/14 post:
So what am I really trying to saying to you? What is the real point I am trying to get across? I’ve had trouble thinking about anything else for the past 14 hours. When I first read your latest reply, part of me wanted to say “You are wrong. You are bad. You are selfish and short sighted. You should be more like me. I am good.” Unfortunately my distain for such overly dichotomous noise prevents me from doing so. Besides, would such statements have any effect, unlikely. Furthermore, who am I to tell you what your values and goals should be? And finally while I do not know you, it is probably the case that, while you may think it silly to go out of your way to try to make the world a better place, you do not go out of your way to make it worse. So in the end, I do not want people like you to change very much. It turns out what I am looking for is a tweak. You helped me realize that what I am trying to do is tweak the world.
So here it is. Starting with your individual values, you arrive at a series of goals. In deciding how to achieve those goals, I propose always question the dichotomaticity of the approach. Be aware of how counterproductive DT can be. When dealing with others, first ask, What are their goals? Next, are these goals consistent with my values and goals? If so, will the actions they propose really help achieving our common goals? And finally, is the degree of dichotomaticity justified? Is DT replacing goal-oriented thinking?
I am not saying you should change your values or your goals. I am asking you to think about the process by which you achieve those goals. To me, the process of achieving goals and solving problems is inherently human. The ability to acknowledge our individual values and set our own goals is part of what separates us from animals and machines. If there are two equally effective ways to achieve a particular goal (A and B) and if A also has the added effect of making this a better world or facilitating the solution of other problems and if B had the effect of exacerbating other problems, most of us would choose A. In general, I believe the more dichotomous the approach to a problem the more it tends to be like B.
In a recent exchange with friends, it was suggested that in dealing with these groups I was advocating “waiting until we reach a higher level as a species.” I realized what I am advocating is that we should be fighting tooth and nail to reach that higher level. My insight is that dichotomous thinking is far and away the biggest single barrier to that goal. To me groups like Hamas and ISIS and Boco Haram are irrelevant because it is too late. Just like it was too late by the late 30’s to stop Hitler. The time to stop Hitler was 1919. Had the Versailles Treaty looked more like the Marshall plan, Hitler would have died in obscurity. The time to stop the rise of the current groups would have been 10-15 years ago when most of the current adherents were teenagers. My concern is what will the world look like 10-15 years from now? A hand full of isolated groups numbering in the 10s of thousands is irrelevant. Hitler commanded a single army 10 times that size. Built on dichotomous thinking. If we don’t start now doing something seriously different, this is what we will be facing. A unified terrorist army numbering in the hundreds of thousands fueled by dichotomous thinking. Information flows like never before and yet the world is becoming more and more violent. Why? Why is the Information Age failing us?
8/4/2014, World War I started 100 years ago today. It was the first “general” war since the defeat of Napoleon 99 years earlier. The world fell apart in just over a month after a senseless terrorist act because of the same small-mindedness that is driving the current insanity. If problem solving continues to take a back seat to pettiness I’m really afraid we may some day look back on these times the way we do the summer of 1914.